The Senate Banking Committee is finally getting around to acting on Richard Cordray, the president’s nominee to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with a scheduled vote tomorrow. That’s a long way from getting a confirmation vote, and so it’s not all that newsy – but there’s an excellent chance that Cordray could wind up being a big story before it’s all done.
Cordray wasn’t nominated until mid-July, a year after Dodd-Frank established the new agency and just before the new agency opened for business. It’s taken the Senate almost three months to get the nomination through committee, and Republicans are vowing to filibuster not only Cordray, but any nominee that Barack Obama would send up. So up to now, the nomination has been relatively low-profile, with Democrats not pushing very hard to fill the opening and Republicans able to block it (and score points with partisans and Wall Street) without having anyone else notice.
That could change. On the one hand, new bank fees may give Republicans a sense that opposing Dodd-Frank could be a winning issue with swing voters; yes, in general all that’s happening here are hidden fees becoming visible, but that doesn’t mean we’re all going to use our rational brains and love the new fees.
On the other hand, we have the high-profile and so far quite successful Elizabeth Warren Senate campaign up in Massachusetts, and the Occupy Wall Street protests keeping banking issues in the news – along with a president who is increasingly sounding a populist note on the campaign trail.
After it passes through the committee, Cordray’s nomination could just quietly rot away on the Senate calendar. Or Harry Reid could bring it to the floor repeatedly, forcing cloture votes and extended debate, supported by a president who highlights the nomination as a prime example of Republican obstruction and how it prevents the government from functioning properly. Indeed, Obama could also threaten to use a recess nomination for Cordray (and some of the others stuck in Senate limbo), and then actually carry out that threat.
Which will it be? I have no idea whether protesters might consider the fate of the CFPB something to fight for; it seems a lot more wonkish than the types of things people normally march about. And I have no idea whether the White House wants to fight for the CFPB, anyway. But this nomination, and GOP obstruction of executive branch nominations in general, is certainly something worth fighting for.